Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Summary – Across Library Sectors

Our Across Library Sectors chat took place on Tuesday 9 July and attracted wide participation – we trended on UK Twitter for the second time in #uklibchat history. 

We’re trialling a new way of doing our chat summaries this month, in part to deal with the increased volume of participation we’re sometimes getting now. This post will be a narrative summary of the chat, recapping key discussion points and views expressed, and giving any relevant links. It won’t give a full listing of individual tweets, just quote selected ones. If you want to view the full archive of tweets from the chat, you can find that separately here.

The chat was about people’s experience of working in different sectors of the library and information world – differences, similarities, and advice on moving between sectors.

Q1. What library sectors have you worked in?

We had participants from the school, academic, law, public, government, careers information, media, further education, museum, corporate, and NHS sectors. We had quite a few participants who had changed sectors, some multiple times. Others said that they’d tried to change but found it difficult.

Q2. What is your favourite thing about the sector that you currently work in?

I think an interesting way to look at this question is to divide it by sector and see what people from different sectors have said:

Careers Information: 

  • @libmichelle Think it’s the contact with students. Get to talk to them every day. Also the look of relief when you say “so you have no idea what you want to do? That’s okay!”
  • @spoontragedy Contact with students, ability to learn more digital/web skills, and interesting subject matter of service


  • @herslantfinely Best thing about health libraries is helping health professionals access information for evidence-based practice

The satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting patient care was echoed by others.


  • @poetryghost I love that we deal with everybody. Babies, children, parents, singles, elderly, everyone. This can also be a downside!

People discussed how they love seeing customers grow up – sometimes from baby bump onwards – and getting to know the regulars. Some people also loved that in public libraries, you never know what’s coming through the door or what enquiry you might get next.


  • @VickiMcGarvey feeling you are making a difference to someone’s life

Making a difference to individuals was mentioned by other people from the academic sector, and came up quite a bit in general.


  • @BishopWalshLib The pupils! And being able to decide what I do and when I do it.

Autonomy was mentioned by many as a favourite part of being a school librarian. Others also mentioned the variety of the role.


  • @LibrarySherpa the variety, the fast pace, dealing with legal topics, and some more … the int’l and various domestic jurisdictions, office culture

Further Education:

  • @CaraClarke I like working as part of a team. My previous job in a school was as a solo librarian. I find team working more enjoyable

Several managers said that they valued not being too remote from the service and still being able to work ‘on the shop floor’.

Q3. What are you curious about regarding other sectors?

As this one involved a lot of participants answering each others’ queries, I’ve reproduced more of the conversations here. One of the greatest parts of #uklibchat is people who might not otherwise interact sharing knowledge and experience with each other directly.


I’d be interested in health libraries but all jobs seem to want health library experience – how did ppl get into them? #uklibchat

@LOLintheLibrary I’m curious about staff-customer contact in public libs. Do you have regular customers that you get to know over time?

@VickiMcGarvey how do public library colleagues cope with constant resource challenges?

@HelenKielt Are there better opportunities for career progression in some sectors rather than others? What are ppls perceptions? #uklibchat

@libmichelle Curious about health libraries – do you ever see any patients? Or just health workers? #uklibchat

@amycrossmenzies I’m curious about how public libraries decide on their “quick picks” sections. Does it involve lots of research or random?

@theangelremiel Does anyone know us NHS librarians exist? Or rather, did they know before that awesome talk at UB13?#uklibchat

@libmichelle Also for law/media librarians, do you prefer working in private sector? Are there extra benefits/perks? #uklibchat

  • @Schopflin @libmichelle in my experience there are more perks in public sector eg pensions although of course that’s changed #uklibchat
  • @libmichelle @Schopflin That’s interesting. Worked in admin in private sector previously, would have said more benefits there.

@samanthaclare do other librarians see clear trends in library usage? I expect Academic librarians see this strongly? Summer quiet in NHS

  • @VickiMcGarvey #uklibchat Q3 we have peaks & troughs of library usage in the yr increase in eresource usage in HE
  • @libmichelle Q3 In careers summer is a busy time – not as many students coming in but lots of work and planning for next academic year.

@SarahLeaphard I’d love to know about ‘weeding’ in other sectors. Is it sector specific or do we all follow similar ‘rules’? Just finished mine!

@CaraClarke Im curious abt role of academic liaison librarian in a uni lib. Being linked to a curriculum area intrigues me.

@order_and_light I want to be a music librarian:that’s the dream! Any media librarians got suggestions how to attain said dream?

  • @rugabela @order_and_light @uklibchat #uklibchat Hi!! I did a course on Music librarian in my country through my job centre. It was the most beautiful course I’ve ever done but it requires a lot of knowledge of music language and found a few offers who wanted a musician specialised in libraries. Hard to get into it!!
  • @samanthaclare @rugabela @order_and_light @uklibchat sometimes the experience require is SO specific, i.e. subject first degree then library postqual.
  • @order_and_light @rugabela @uklibchat Thanks so much for the reply! I do read music and took it for GCSE (ha!) but am aware that opportunities are limited 😦
  • @order_and_light @rugabela @uklibchat I wish I had more of an opinion! Music lib in town is being downsized and librarian was hired on account of having contemporary musical knowledge.

@LOLintheLibrary Interesting responses to my Q. My children loved talking to public library staff. Doesn’t happen now due to self-service! :-/#uklibchat

@mishdalton A bit late joining, sorry! Question for academic liaison librarians – whats the biggest challenge/difficulty you have?

  • @wiley9000 @mishdalton Definitely is difficult communicating things clearly to busy academics! What’s biggest challenge for you?
  • @mishdalton @wiley9000 Similar actually – communicating info to busy doctors who are rushing off to treat patients! #uklibchat
  • @wiley9000 @mishdalton Hehe I did wonder if it might be! Do you find they generally value your work? #uklibchat
  • @mishdalton @wiley9000 Those who use the library definitely, but many aren’t even aware of it. I’ve 8,000 users as a solo lib which is tricky
  • @wiley9000 @mishdalton That does sound tough! More extreme version of my ‘wishing I could get out into department’ problem

Q4. What sectors do you think are easy/hard to get into?

Many different sectors were mentioned as difficult to get into for different reasons. Media, health, law and corporate libraries were all mentioned as difficult to get into without prior experience. However, @spoontragedy thought some small sectors eg. careers information could be easier to get into as recruiters didn’t expect niche sector experience that not many people had.

Some thought academic libraries made a lot of internal appointments, making it hard to break in. Some people from more niche sectors felt that sometimes jobseekers didn’t consider them, or recognise their roles as information work. @CaraClarke thought that health libraries seemed hard to get into as the language used in the sector was different to others.

Salary levels in a sector are a big part of how easy it is to get into. Some participants had accepted a lower level post to get into a higher paid sector – eg. moving from a qualified librarian post in public libraries to a library assistant post in an academic library, with similar pay but a lower level of responsibility. @niamhpage thought it was easier to move early on in your career.

Q5: Why did you (or do you) want to move sectors? Or if you don’t want to move, why are you happy where you are?

Many people had pragmatic reasons for moving sector:

  • @order_and_light Q5. I moved sectors after redundancy from my public library job.
  • @libmichelle Q5 I want to move as can’t progress where I am. Also only work p/t and need full time.
  • @Kari_Luana Q5. I was also forced to move when my pay was frozen but the train costs kept going up #uklibchat I cried a lot when I left

Seeing a lack of career progression in their current sector and wanting to develop new skills, or get the chance to use skills like research, were also mentioned by many. Several participants who had moved out of public libraries, or were considering doing so, were reluctant to leave but felt they had to because of the difficulties and cuts in public libraries. This put off potential new entrants to public libraries too.

Not many offered reasons for staying in the same sector/workplace but @Schopflin did:

  • @Schopflin #uklibchat I genuinely respect what my manager is aiming for and have great colleagues. And I know how rare this is!

Q6: If you have moved sector, what do you think helped you move successfully?

According to our participants, understanding your skills and how they might be used in other sectors is important here. Some people thought that the combination of their library experience and qualifications and other experience they had from other jobs had been important for them. Working in a varied role that allows you to use a range of skills definitely helps. Professional development is an important way of learning and a lot can be learned from networking. Networking is particularly important for those working in small teams or solo, for example in health and school libraries.

There was an interesting discussion about the trade-off between quality and quantity in service provision. If you are a small service attempting to serve a large number of potential users, is it better to provide a high quality, intensive service to a few or a more shallow, basic service to many? @mishdalton said ‘I think its better to reach & bring real benefits to a small number than a bigger number but not deliver real value’.

Q7: What skills were transferable from your previous sector? What new ones did you have to learn?

Skills most mentioned as transferable were enquiry skills, customer service, being calm and diplomatic in pressured situations, and understanding user needs. New skills that people acquired included classification, records management, budget management, web authoring, and event management. It seems like the new skills you have to acquire when you move sector tend to be more ‘hard’ skills and the ones you bring with you more ‘soft’. It’s also important to get to grips with the culture and aims of your new organisation. @jwebbery thought the differences between sectors had decreased in the last 10 years.

  • @theangelremiel It was like going from playing the violin to playing the guitar.  Principles the same, practice very different

Q8. What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to adapt to a new sector?

The most common challenges were culture shock, building new relationships with colleagues and other services, and learning sector specific jargon. Moving to a new sector can be scary, especially for those that with management responsibility in their role, but also could be exhilerating and lead to lots of new learning. School librarians who’d moved into the sector mentioned managing pupil numbers at break times. Several people who moved away from public libraries found it hard to get used to a less diverse customer base, or less customer contact. Some people who’d moved into special libraries found acquiring new subject knowledge challenging (eg. chemistry in a pharmaceutical library, weaponry in an army library!)

Q9. Have you moved from a library role to a less traditional information role? How is your job similar/different?

People who had made this kind of move often were now working with a narrower customer base with more focused information needs. Some had more customer contact than before, as they’d moved from a large team to a smaller one which was quite customer facing; some had less customer contact as they were more desk based. @Kosjanka felt she had to more flexible than before, as her role and organisation changed frequently:

  • @Kosjanka Q9. Government policy can have huge impacts on our work and direction, and we need to keep moving to keep relevant.

Q10. Do you have any advice to people who are considering trying out new sectors? 

  • @theangelremiel Go for it! I always recommend living in another country or doing another job. Teaches you about yourself
  • @libmichelle Q10 Use a careers service to check over your application! Either your old uni (will generally see grads for a few years) or try the National Careers Service
  • @theangelremiel re: “the cutting edge”, all edges cut.  Make sure you look at how people in all disciplines do their jobs.
  • @shibshabs Q10. Spend time thinking about everything you do even ‘minor’ tasks, and think abt transferable egs for application & interview
  • @libmichelle Q10 I did lots of library visits as a grad trainee. Found people are very receptive to this, and I loved doing them!
  • @Doombrarian Q10 I haven’t moved for a while,but I’d speculate that up to date skills, engagement with new tech & networking will be important
  • @OrionCards to just do it & give it a go.  Apply for stuff even if you think you have no chance.  It worked for me.
  • @theangelremiel Q10. look for library jobs in nontraditional places.  Ask yourself which skills transfer. Better to apply & fail than not apply
  • @Kosjanka Q10 #BlatantPlug Follow @VoicesLibrary. A new librarian / library advocate every week! We have folk from all sectors tweeting.
  • @shibshabs Q10. If you expect to be asked for ideas (and you prob should) look overseas – USA libs are innovative!

After the end of our agenda, @theangelremiel asked: if you had to leave your current sector, where would you want to work next? The answers to this included public libraries, museum libraries, NHS and academic libraries.


For those interested in the law sector, see this slideshare presentation debunking myths on legal info by @mariegcannon and @LibWig.

@stjerome1st wrote a blog post about his experience ‘across the sectors and through the decades’ inspired by our topic.

Have a look at our Library Sectors tag to see all three of the feature posts from #uklibchat blog contributors we published in the week leading up to this chat.


About spoontragedy

Former public library Children's Librarian, now working as a Careers Information Officer in a London university. Nearly finished being an #aberils student.

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2013 by in Discussion Summaries and tagged , , , , , , .


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